Earlier this week, a report indicated that both Snap and Facebook are using a loophole in Apple’s App Tracking Transparency guidelines to continue sharing ‘aggregated’ user data. A new report from The Information sheds more light on this, with a specific focus on the workaround Snap is using.

The report explains that while Apple’s rules for App Tracking Transparency state developers cannot track users and link “user or device data” between different apps or services, the guidelines don’t specifically define “linking.” This has apparently created “wiggle room” even when users explicitly tap “Ask App Not to Track.”

Apple’s rules say forbidden tracking practices include linking “user or device data” from one app with similar data from other apps to better target ads or measure whether they worked, but Apple doesn’t define linking. That created wiggle room. So even though an estimated 80% of Apple iOS users globally have opted out of tracking for at least one app, according to Verizon and ad-tech firm Adjust, app developers are still sharing data about users that could be used to identify them later.

For example, the workaround that Snap is reportedly using, which it has named Advanced Conversions, allows it to “receive detailed information from ad-tech companies about the activities of individual iPhone users.”

Using that data, Snap is reportedly able to “gauge the efficacy of ads, even if a user asked the apps sending data to Snap not to track them.” The key to Snap’s strategy, however, is that the data about “who saw an ad on Snapchat and what they did in other apps afterward are blurred with encryption so they can’t be linked back to an individual.” Still, Snap is then able to analyze that data and deliver results to advertisers.

According to The Information, Snap does not believe that its system violates Apple’s App Tracking Transparency guidelines. Facebook and Google have also reportedly created similar systems, and they also believe they don’t violate the guidelines.

It says it uses complex mathematical modeling on the data it receives to determine the likelihood that an opted-out user took a certain action based on seeing an ad in its app, a spokesman said. Facebook and Google have said they have created similar systems. Like Snap, they describe at a high level on their websites the techniques they use to assess how effective ad campaigns were. Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment, and Google said it uses data from iOS users who have asked not to be tracked in a privacy-preserving way that it believes is compliant with Apple’s rules.

But even though Snapchat, Facebook, and Google have all reportedly developed these systems, companies have still reported being financially impacted by App Tracking Transparency, including both Facebook and Snap.

In a statement to The Information, an Apple spokesman said the company has “received strong support from privacy advocates and regulators” for App Tracking Transparency. “A user’s data belongs to them and they should get to decide whether to share their data and with whom,” they said.

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Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

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